Empower Your Learners

Philip Bowman
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Empower Your Learners

January 12, 2021 | Self-Directed Learning; UDL; Mind, Brain, and Education

By Philip Bowman

As we start a new year, most of us have already accepted the fact that this year will still bring with it a number of challenges and struggles. 


Many students with learning differences face a variety of challenges every year. For some, they expend most of their energy trying to sit still in class to avoid getting in trouble (with mixed results), leaving little energy left to learn. Other students process or express information in specific ways that are not always perceived and accounted for by all educators. Still, others struggle to navigate the social complexities of school and life. You, as an experienced educator, interact with and know these students.


These students need something more, a new paradigm in which they can learn and thrive.  


The key is empowerment. When the classroom isn’t working for a learner, then they are not being given the opportunity to self-direct their learning in a way that is meaningful and effective for them.  


As you consider how to empower your individual learners, you can lean on these strategies (in-person or virtually): 


1. Fostering relevance: Make connections between the learning task and the learner’s personal goals. Acknowledge any thoughts, feelings, or concerns they might be experiencing, keeping in mind that emotions and cognition are linked.


2. Providing choice: The personalized learning continuum starts with giving a learner voice and choice, which, in turn, gives the learner more agency and autonomy in their learning.


3. Creating multiple means for learning: Present your class content through multiple formats. Allow students a variety of ways to engage with the material as well as additional options for expressing their mastery of the content. A meta-analysis found that Universal Design for Learning (UDL)-based curriculum reduced learning barriers for students with and without disabilities, as it considers learner needs from the beginning.


This increased level of support and nurture leads to greater intrinsic motivation, which is positively correlated with learner empowerment. Additionally, students who perceive that they are empowered feel that their teacher listens, understands, and encourages them.

The Education Endowment Foundation recognizes that creating a supportive environment for learning is one of four dimensions we as educators should focus on to increase our effectiveness. As it states: 

A supportive environment is characterized by relationships of trust and respect between students and teachers, and among students. It is one in which students are motivated, supported and challenged, and have a positive attitude toward their learning.  

Empower your learners by fostering relevance, providing choice, and creating multiple means for learning.

Your grateful friend and colleague,

Philip Bowman

Philip Bowman is a Special Educator at International School Bangkok and the Founder of the MARIO Framework.



Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F., & Lundqvist, K.Ø. (2016). Universal Design for Learning (UDL): A Content Analysis of Peer-Reviewed Journal Papers from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16, 39-56. 


Assor A, Kaplan H, Roth G. Choice is good, but relevance is excellent: autonomy-enhancing and suppressing teacher behaviours predicting students’ engagement in schoolwork. Br J Educ Psychol. 2002 Jun;72(Pt 2):261-78. doi: 10.1348/000709902158883. PMID: 12028612. 


Brooks, Catherine & Young, Stacy. (2011). Are Choice-Making Opportunities Needed in the Classroom? Using Self- Determination Theory to Consider Student Motivation and Learner Empowerment. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 23 (1), 48-59. 23. 48-59.  


Cambridge Assessment International Education, Coe, R., Rauch, C., Kime, S., & Singleton, D. (2020, June). Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review. Evidence Based Education. 


Immordino-Yang, M. H., & Damasio, A. (2007). We Feel, Therefore We Learn: The Relevance of Affective and Social Neuroscience to Education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 1(1), 3–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-228x.2007.00004.x ‌


Immordino-Yang, M. H., & Faeth, M. (2010). The Role of Emotion and Skilled Intuition in Learning. In D. A. Sousa (Ed.), Mind Brain and Education (pp. 69-84). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press. 


Johnmarshall Reeve, “Teachers as Facilitators: What Autonomy‐Supportive Teachers Do and Why Their Students Benefit,” The Elementary School Journal 106, no. 3 (January 2006): 225-236. 


Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Wynn, S. R. (2010). The effectiveness and relative importance of choice in the classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 896–915. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019545


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